Local students perform and shine in NYC

Local students perform and shine in NYC

Four members of Fayette County’s TUS (The Ugarte Studio)  -- Ellen Sturgill (23,) Gabrielle Aku (14,) Clara Marti Garro (8) -- from Peachtree City -- and Abby Mortensen (14) -- from Newnan -- joined the chorus of New York Grand Opera this past June 27 in Central Park for its fully-staged production of Pucinni’s “Tosca” in a performance that received very high praises by The New York Times.

It was a gifted night lit by a full moon, an evening of enchanting music and beautiful singing that took place under the baton of one of the greatest conductors of Verdi and Puccini, Maestro Vincent La Selva.  The four lucky and talented ladies had rehearsed for four weeks locally, joining the opera company for only two rehearsals before the performance, a full run and the dress the day before. 

It is no small feat to have been a part of what is a beloved tradition in New York City, now on its 39th year in front of a packed audience, but to do it and receive high praises by the conductor, the chorus master and everybody else is certainly an achievement.

The young performers were selected from the advanced members of TUS, now in its second year providing this outstanding opportunity to some of our best talent.  It was the first time performing in New York for soprano Ellen Sturgill, who holds a BM in Vocal Performance from LSU and was recently awarded a work-study fellowship to complete her graduate degree at the same institution.  Gabrielle Aku and Clara Marti Garro are both students in Peachtree City.  Aku is a freshman at McIntosh High School and Marti Garro attends Peeples Elementary.  The veteran of the group was Abby Mortensen, who formed part of the first group last year.  Mortensen, who has won several local singing competitions, is a freshman at Northgate High School in Newnan and also a talented young photographer whose work is beingdisplayed on the NYGO’s website.

Founded by laureate Maestro Vincent La Selva in 1973, New York Grand Opera celebrated this year its 39th season offering free, fully-staged productions in Central Park, despite the current challenging financial environment and when even companies like The Metropolitan Opera have suspended such endeavors. 

NYGO is unique in the world for this endeavor and Maestro La Selva -- who is considered one of the best conductors of Verdi and probably Puccini, has been honored by many, including the governments of France and Italy, President Clinton, Governor Petaki and Mayor Giuliani -- the latest bestowing on Maestro La Selva the Haendel Medallion, the highest honor in the City of New York for contributions to the arts.  The veteran conductor also holds the Guinness World Record for being the first to present all of Verdi’s 28 operas in chronological order in a 7-year event known as Viva Verdi!

In addition to their participation in NYGO’s Tosca, the girls toured The Juilliard School, NYU, and Manhattan School of Music. They had private master classes with Maestro La Selva in classical singing and with Dianna Heldman, head of Vocal Performance and Musical Theater at the NYU’s Steinhardt School and recipient of NYU’s Steinhardt Teaching Excellence Award, in musical theater.  (Both of them expressed high praises for their talent and their solid and healthy vocal technique.) They had a private meeting with Manhattan School of Music’s Distance Learning program and had a private tour of the New Amsterdam Theater with Disney Theatrical Productions, where “Mary Poppins” is currently running, show that they attended the following day; a Behind-The-Scenes tour of Wicked with two of the cast members; a backstage tour of Radio City Hall where they met and chatted with one of the Rockets, attending Circus du Soleil’s Zarkana at Radio City a couple of days later; and a tour of Lincoln Center that included the Metropolitan Opera, Avery Fisher Hall and the New York State Theater.

While their stay in New York, they roomed at the dorms of The Juilliard School, sharing the building with members of The School of American Ballet and The Bolshoi.  They also learned how to navigate the city and each one, at different times, was responsible to get the group to a location, learning to be aware of their surroundings and to get from point A to point B and who to approach for help and directions, helpful skills for anybody at any point in life.

The trip was a reward for their hard work through out the year, an amazing opportunity to grow and learn from the best.  It’s a chance very few get and they certainly took advantage of every little New York minute!